“Most people …. may hold a philosophy of materialism or Darwinian naturalism, yet in practice they live in ways that contradict those worldviews. After all, who really treats their convictions as the products of natural selection, and not really true but only useful for survival? Who could survive emotionally if they really believed that their self-sacrificing love is nothing but “pseudo-altruism”?”Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. (Crossway, 2004, 2005), p. 319
“If Darwin had announced his theory of evolution in India, China, or Japan, it would hardly have made a stir. “If—along with hundreds of millions of Hindus and Buddhists—you have never believed that humans differ from anything else in the natural world in having an immortal soul, you will find it hard to get worked up by a theory that shows how much we have in common with other animals.” [Quoted by Pearcey from Gillespie’s Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation.) The West’s high view of human dignity and rights is borrowed directly from Christianity. “Humanism is not an alternative to religious belief, but rather a degenerate and unwitting version of it.””Pearcey, p. 320.
There are a number of ways to believe in and honour the Creator. Judaism gave birth to Christianity, while Islam arose from the influence of both these previous faiths on Muhammad and the Arabian tribes. Hinduism does not have a single point of view on creation, while Buddhism does not require a Creator at all. One may believe in the Creator without adhering to any of these religions, for example by practicing traditional some indigenous forms of spirituality. The question of revelations by the Creator to specific individuals and ways of relating to the Creator which are more in harmony with His/Her true nature is not the issue at this point of the discussion, although it is an issue in a larger sense to which we may need to return at some future time.
There are many points of intersection among the three major monotheistic faiths which seek to bring humanity into harmony with the Creator.[i] All three believe that the Creator is personal and present in the creation—not a distant “Deity” no longer taking an interest in the stuff He/She has made; not an anonymous ‘World Soul’ hiding behind a crust of illusion. Muslims, Christians, and Jews all believe that this Cosmos is real, created by a personal Creator. That is what Muslims signify by God (Allah) being as close as your jugular vein. Christians, Muslims, and Jews all believe God is immanent [no, this is not a spelling mistake!], very close by, “permanently pervading the universe” (Canadian Oxford Compact Dictionary). Thus, if your jugular vein were suddenly severed, you would simply step across into God’s manifest presence.
If God is so intimately connected with the creation at all times, why do we not see Him/Her more often—or even at all, in the case of most of us? Jesus used this expression: “Those who have eyes to see, let them see.” He also used a converse referring to wilful blindness: “But their eyes have been blinded, lest seeing they would see …”
The Bible of Judaism and Christianity states that humanity, both male and female, is “made in the image of God.” The ancient Greek translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament) used the term ikon for “image”. God did not break His/Her own commandment against making any image of God. God made a walking, talking, living, breathing image who was a personal being bestowed with immense dignity and mandated with great responsibility to represent the Creator on earth. Although monotheistic, Islam does not have the same view of human beings. In the Quran, we are not really God’s partners and certainly not His/Her ‘images,’ for any image or incarnate representative form of the Creator is anathema.
In the Judeo-Christian worldview, humans are “children of God,” albeit mostly rebellious ones. We are estranged from the family, but the Creator reaches out in love, mercy, and compassion to restore the relationship. The Creator longs for our return, for reconciliation, for our restoration and redemption. He/She is prepared to go to extreme lengths to achieve it.
The ‘Old Testament,’ the Tanakh, highlights this deep desire. Although it is sometimes difficult to see the love, mercy, and compassion of the Creator in the rocky story of ancient Israel’s relationship with the Creator, a final reconciliation was promised when God would send His/Her ‘Son’, His/Her anointed and incarnate final ‘Word’, the Mashiach (Messiah, Anointed One, in Greek the Christ).
This is the ‘Son’ we are invited to kiss, because the coming of ‘the Son’ is the Creator’s ultimate, definitive appeal to His/Her wayward children to come home. The ‘Son’ is the unique personal incarnation of God. He carries the very personality of God, embodying the ‘Way’ we must follow. He shows us how to turn away from the way of death and destruction we have chosen now for millennia up to this very day. The Son said everything the “Father,” as He calls the Creator, had to say to us. He told us everything we need to know to return to the family, showing us what living in harmony and intimacy with the Creator and the creation actually looks like in the flesh.
The Son invites us to kiss him as we kiss our family members when we come home from a long journey. Then we give one another the kiss of true peace. We can freely extend mercy, grace, and compassion to the rest of God’s children, wayward or not. Turning our backs on the Creator’s ultimate appeal is taking the great risk that, at some point, “he [may] be angry and you [may] be destroyed in your way,” as Psalm 2:12a puts it—not because of his vengeance, but by our own stupidity.
This is far from the same old story of the wrathful, vengeful God which “we” [the West’s enlightened intellectual class] worked so hard to free ourselves from. It is a simple, very real statement of how life and relationships work. If, as we have been observing, the personal Creator has left His/Her signature everywhere and patterned the universe on His/Her character, and made humans to be the embodiment of how the creation is supposed to relate to the Creator, why is it a shock to find that, in the time-space continuum in which our drama is lived out, time runs out and opportunities disappear? While the Creator is eternal and His/Her love infinite, in the arena of time and space people are given choices to make and opportunities to seek, find, and pursue relationship with the Creator who made them. As we see in our relationships with one another, opportunities are not endless and choices limit what follows.
The Creator’s love is on free offer 24/7 “as close as your jugular vein.” You don’t have to understand much anatomy to know that the jugular keeps you alive as long as it brings the blood back to your heart in a continuous flow. So too with our invitation to “kiss the Son while he may be found.” Some day those who wait too long or refuse too many times will no longer be able to find him or get close enough to “kiss him.”
Pearcey’s powerful book on the cultural captivity of Christianity, especially in the USA, points to this deliberate rejection of the invitation to meet the ‘God of the jugular’ and ‘kiss the Son.’ For well over two hundred years we have chosen to block out the evidence of the Creator’s immanence in ‘the Book of Nature,’ which is what the jugular refers to, and the voice of the Creator’s constant appeal to come and ‘kiss the Son.’
The modern myth of progress in human rights, freedom, and dignity, and the emergence of a more compassionate, freer society says that our bright new modern world was fashioned out of ‘whole new cloth’ by the Enlightenment crusaders after exposing and discrediting the bankruptcy of Christianity and the futility of trusting the ‘fable’ about a beneficent Creator. This wonderful tale of the liberating Enlightenment is a myth which we have largely bought into. The truth is that those Enlightenment ‘pioneers’ owed almost everything in their basic thinking to the work of Christian, or at least theist, predecessors, including the whole notion of ‘Progress’ itself.
We do not have time or space here to deconstruct that myth, but it is plain to see that what we have now in the West is cultural deadness of soul and spirit tinged with creeping despair. But the Son’s voice of hope is still calling and inviting us to enter the family of the Creator who gives us being and meaning. It is time to listen to the advice of Psalm 12 and ‘seek the Son’, the Creator’s face turned toward us in full love, while he may be found. If that is too tall an order for now, start with finding the courage to turn your face to the Creator poised at your jugular vein. There is a promise to claim: “Seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.”
[i] I do not include Hinduism or Buddhism here for the reason that neither conceives the universe as being the work of a single, personal Creator. Hinduism as practised by the vast majority of its adherents is a polytheistic religion which does not have a unified theology of creation and the Cosmos. We in the West see it mainly in truncated, idealized form—meditation and yoga to get in touch with our ‘true inner self’, which is supposedly the same as getting in touch with the ‘Universal Soul,’ the essence of being hidden within all things. The goal is to be absorbed, ‘to lose yourself’ and become one with the all.’ This discovery may take many lifetimes, thus reincarnation is a central tenet of Hinduism. The ‘creation’ we experience is maya, a sort of illusion which deceives us and entraps us. It must be escaped, not valued and enhanced because the Creator (who is not really there anyway) made it and pronounced it ‘very good’.
Buddhism sprang from Hinduism, but Buddha refined the Hindu perspective. He simply bypassed all the ‘gods,’ saying that, if they exist, they are in no better case than everyone else trapped in the cycle of suffering. Buddhism does not offer a theology of creation, rather focusing on inner harmony and union with the inner essence of all things. The object is to free oneself from struggle, pain, conflict, suffering, birth, death, and rebirth.
Therefore, neither Hinduism nor Buddhism offers a way of rediscovering who we are and why there is meaning in the here and now. They are escapist and rejectionist, saying we need to leave this ‘prison’ behind. That is not to say that there is no truth to be found in them regarding the human condition as we experience it, or help to be found in learning to discipline our passions and bear the sufferings of life. There are some quite practical things to be found there when careful discretion is used in discering them. As an old Reformed adage puts it, “All truth is God’s truth,” no matter whose mouth it comes out of, as long as, as Francis Schaeffer used to put it, it is “true truth.”